Some people just want to watch the world burn. Some Magic players don’t want there to be creatures on the battlefield – they want a nice, neat and most importantly empty battlefield, so they can draw their extra cards and counter every… single… card… you play. Luckily for those players, sweepers have been a big part of Magic since its very beginning.
A “sweeper” is a card that destroys all (or most) creatures in play, usually symmetrically – but not always, as we’ll see. Often, you break this symmetry by not playing creatures alongside sweepers, and so they become a very effective tool in keeping your head above water in any aggressive matchup.
They’ve been a defining part of the game since Alpha was released back in 1993, and today we’re going to get across five of the very best. Here we go!
In terms of sheer power level, it doesn’t get much better than Plague Wind. Nine mana may as well be a billion mana in most formats, but what’s really special about Plague Wind is how iconic it is as an effect. Because of this card and its absurd, game-winning impact, any one-sided sweeper effect is invariably known as a Plague Wind.
Cast a regular sweeper that doesn’t hit your creatures? Plague Wind. Cleverly protect your creatures from an opponent’s sweeper? They just Plague Winded themselves. It’s such a widespread piece of Magic terminology that it’s not even restrained to actual literal board wipe cards – if you attack with a trick that leaves your team alive and theirs dead after blocks, you’ve just pulled off a Plague Wind.
It might not see all that much play, but there’s no doubt that Plague Wind is an iconic card with an iconic effect – a card whose impact is so powerful that its very name entered the Magic vernacular as a stand in for any situation where one side of the board gets blown up.
If you don’t play a lot of EDH, Decree of Pain probably will largely escape your notice these days. It’s so old that it’s not even legal in Modern, but it’s one of the most brutally backbreaking cards in Commander, and well and truly lives up to its name in dishing out pain to those who are on the wrong side of it.
It’s not unusual for a drawn-out game of Commander to have 15 or 20 (or more!) creatures on the battlefield, and in EDH, eight mana isn’t actually all that much. If you can resolve this card onto a full board, you’re going to be laughing all the way to the bank, as your opponents sadly pile their creatures into the bin and you draw so many cards you’ll have trouble holding them all.
Even its cycling ability is extremely useful, particularly in the early turns when players are setting up shop behind their utility creatures. It’s not difficult to capitalize on an instant-speed, uncounterable Infest that draws you a card – Decree of Pain slices and dices and does it all.
Anger of the Gods sits at the perfect sweet spot between cost and power level to see significant play in competitive formats. Sometimes, a four-mana sweeper isn’t fast enough, and Anger of the Gods’ three damage is enough to clean up most turn three board states. It’s not the easiest card to cast with its 1RR mana cost, but a restrictive mana cost is certainly preferable to just dying on turn four.
Critically, Anger of the Gods exiles creatures rather than letting them hit the graveyard, which makes all the difference in any format with graveyard nonsense going on. Any deck hoping to recur dead creatures is not going to enjoy having them obliterated by an Anger of the Gods, and so in many cases it’s actually better than a traditional four-mana board wipe.
Finally, because it only does three damage, it can be played in midrange decks with bigger creatures that survive it. Rather than being an all-in sweeper like some of the ones we’ll come to shortly, Anger of the Gods is a magnificent compromise between a lot of different axes, and is a top-notch sweeper as a result.
When you want the board clear, and you don’t want to worry about counterspells or any of that nonsense protecting their creatures, Supreme Verdict gets the job done. Sorry, blue-based tempo decks; sorry, Temur aggro – your creatures are dead, and there’s nothing you could have done about it.
However, one of the worst things about casting this card, however, is when they actually do have an answer. There aren’t many answers out there, but when your opponent responds with a Heroic Intervention or a Teferi’s Protection, man, it feels bad. That’s not how it’s supposed to work! Supreme Verdict is supposed to clear the board, no questions asked!
Interestingly, after complaining that Anger of the Gods’ mana requirement was a bit restrictive, in practice the opposite is true of Supreme Verdict, despite it costing 1WWU. More often than not, control decks that play white also play blue, and so the extra blue pip isn’t really ever that much of an extra hurdle – but its uncounterability clause provides a monumental upgrade.
When it comes to powerful, iconic sweepers that have defined both gameplay patterns and Magic vocabulary, you can’t go past Wrath of God. Just like Plague Wind, “Wrath” has entered the Magic vernacular as a stand-in phrase for sweepers of all kinds: “wrath the board”, “play around a wrath”, etc. Even in writing this article, I consciously had to avoid using the word “wrath” when talking about all the other cards on the list!
Sure, Wrath of God isn’t as good as Supreme Verdict. Regeneration hasn’t been around for a long time now – a viewer on my stream actually asked me why Wrath of God had the anti-regeneration clause, and I had to explain that, well, a long time ago, there was this ability that could protect your creatures from dying… how did it work? Well, I don’t know, I don’t think anyone did, really, but it was called “regeneration”, and… thanks, Wrath of God, for making me feel like a real Magic boomer.
But you can’t argue with the fact that there simply isn’t a more iconic sweeper than Wrath of God. Going all the way back to Alpha, Wrath has been the control players weapon of choice when it comes to dealing with problematic board states. No matter if Wrath was telling us that “all creatures in play are destroyed and cannot regenerate”, to “bury all creatures”, or even to “put all creatures into their owners’ discard piles (this includes your creatures)”, this card has been keeping boards nice and clear for almost three decades.
These sweepers, and so many more besides, have helped to shape and define not only individual formats but the game as a whole, and the many play patterns that emerge surrounding them. Do you play into sweepers and hope they don’t have them, or play around them and give them more time to stabilize? These cards are a huge part of the fabric of the game, and so it’s unsurprising that many of them have become so truly iconic.